Internet Blockades During Elections: When Authoritative Politicians Go Bonkers
Internet shutdowns are a tool of political censorship that authoritarian regimes use to kill opposition voices.
This practice is now so widespread that many politicians use it as a well-devised strategy to win votes and stop the flow of information to the voters.
Venezuela, for instance, championed blocking social media on its national assembly leadership vote. Similarly, many other countries, including Cuba, also followed suit.
While the countries may label it an effort to maintain law and order, these are surely the attempts of voter suppression.
Internet Blockage: A Disastrous Approach Even if Partially Pursued
Silencing digital voices is not a new approach at all. Hosni Mubarak walked this route in 2011 and curbed the voices of many stakeholders in Egypt.
Ten years down the line, internet shutdowns in Myanmar have become a new norm as the military dictatorship continued ruling the country illegitimately.
The same is the case in Sudan, as the merciless coups have allowed the newly introduced government to enforce timely internet disruptions.
While absolute censorship always remains an option for clueless leaders, sometimes they also tend to block specific sites just because these leaders feel threatened by people visiting these sites.
They believe that the content of these sites can expose their hypocrisy to their voters, which could cost them elections.
For instance, Russia targeted Twitter just because the platform refused to take down pro-opposition content, which Vladimir Putin did not want to have.
Similarly, Tunisia also blocked a handful of websites in recent elections, which indicates how politicians can exploit technology for their own purposes.
However, with the rising awareness, blocked websites can easily be accessed using VPN or proxy websites.
So, preferring to block the internet in its entirety is what most politicians pursue during elections.
Clueless Politicians Prefer Destroying Their Countries over Educating Voters
The consequences of internet blockages are far beyond manipulating election results. For instance, due to the interconnected global economies, the stock markets cease to work with frequent internet disruptions, and the commerce and trade regimes receive merciless trashing due to this.
This results in a decline in the trust of investors in the markets, which ultimately destroys the economy of the country.
Connecting the dots, this means that autocratic politicians disrupt the whole system just because they want to conceal some important information from their voters, or they do not want to let their opposition candidates win even slight support.
The widespread penetration of the internet has even made it one of the most important needs of today’s life.
While many freedom of speech advocates often cry louder for increasing the accessibility to the internet, these advocates are as strong as the local laws allow them to be.
Africa: The Epicenter of Snatching Voters Digital Freedom
In Africa, this sort of voter suppression is more extensive than anywhere else in the whole world.
Uganda, for instance, made internet accessibility highly limited before its 2021 presidential elections.
The situation unfolded in a dramatic way in Uganda, where users just reported the difficulty of accessing some of the apps before elections.
However, as the elections were near, the social media sites were blocked before an all-out assault on the evening of election day when the entire internet was shut down.
Tanzania is yet another country where internet accessibility was in decline in the election season. In the highly controversial elections of 2020, then-President John Magufuli blocked the internet with many measures to curb voters’ participation during the elections.
Zimbabwe and Ethiopia tell the same miserable story.
Robbing Voters of Their Rights: Internet is the Necessity of Election Days
The internet is the single tool in the era of technology that is widely used on election day for a variety of purposes.
With the advent of WhatsApp campaigning, campaigners use this platform often for Go to Vote campaigns.
However, the blockage of the internet makes the matter more difficult for political campaigns.
Similarly, political campaigns also rely on canvassing apps these days, and their only weapon on election day is their reliance on such apps.
When politicians devise a campaigning app strategy and focus on grassroots movements, they cannot afford an internet-less election day.
The same is the repercussions for voters as well, who often need the internet not only to find their polling locations but also to keep in touch with the on-ground situation.
The alarming part is that most of the time, governments exercise their authority over telecommunication companies which have no choice whether or not to comply with the government.
If they do not bandwagon the governments, they end up losing their licenses and receiving a hefty fine which shatters their business models altogether.
Only a global pledge to sanction the countries that embrace these sorts of practices can save the rights of the voters in these trying times.